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New game in town: NBA tips off NBA 2K League with draft

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NEW YORK (AP) — Dimez slipped on his draft hat, shook hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, and began life as the No. 1 pick in the draft.

The video game draft.

Dimez is Artreyo Boyd’s gamer tag and no he doesn’t run or jump like LeBron James or shoot like Stephen Curry. But he is a star at NBA 2K, and on Wednesday he was the first player chosen in the draft for the NBA 2K League, the first official esports league operated by a U.S. professional sports league.

The NBA is serious about its latest venture, having seen how esports has grown from a hobby among youth to an activity that sells out arenas, one that financial analysts say could grow into a billion dollar industry in the next few years.

So the NBA 2K League joined the WNBA and NBA G League as the fourth league in the NBA family.

“We view this in the same way as those other leagues as something that we’re going to develop over a very long time, and we’re building this as a league that’s going to be around forever,” Silver said.

The league will pay gamers $35,000 for six months, with housing and benefits paid. That’s comparable salary to a new player in the WNBA or G League.

Dimez, a 23-year-old from Cleveland, emerged from a field of 72,000 players to get the call from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban that he was the choice of Mavs Gaming, one of 17 teams in the league .

The inaugural season opens in May, and Silver hopes all 30 NBA teams could have entries in three years. He even talked of having overseas teams, figuring the popularity of NBA 2K, the highest-selling and top-rated game in North America, with nearly 10 million copies of NBA 2K18 already sold this year, combined with the NBA’s ability to make stars of its players – athletes, as Silver stressed – should ensure the league is successful.

Dimez sits in a chair playing video games almost all day long, the kind of activity that gets kids yelled at by their parents.

He plays the game well – his gamer tag comes from his point guard’s flair in dishing out assists, known in basketball as dimes – and the Dallas Mavericks organization took him with the first choice in the draft at Madison Square Garden.

“Everybody always asks me how much I play,” Dimez said. “I don’t really have a specific time but I play every day, all day. Almost literally 24 hours, maybe 16 hours. I play every day as much as possible, and that’s not going to stop now.”

To be eligible for the league, players had to win 50 games in January. The NBA expected that would yield around 10,000 candidates and instead there were 72,000. The gamers then went through a combine-style format of competition and interviews to eventually reduce the pool to 102 players for Wednesday’s draft, which consisted of six rounds.

Teams had to draft each of the five positions – point guard, shooting guard, center, power forward and small forward – and one player of their choice for what will be 5-on-5 games.

It was set up like the actual NBA draft, starting with a lottery last month, a full evaluation process by teams, and a media circuit the players had to walk through after exiting the stage. The Philadelphia 76ers, who know something about the draft process after owning the last two No. 1 picks, had a war room set up in their Camden, New Jersey headquarters, where they had been watching tape of players and applying the use of analytics to weigh them.

There are partnerships with Dell and Intel to make them the official equipment of the league – though like a player choosing his own sneakers, gamers are allowed to use the controller of their preference.

Games will be played at a couple of central locations in the first season, though the NBA hopes of eventually having esports teams compete in NBA arenas in front of their home fans.

Dr. Matthew H. Zimmerman, an assistant professor of Sports Studies at Mississippi State University, believes that kind of growth is possible, with the number of gamers and esports fans who are already paying to watch games in person and online.

“Staples Center has hosted sold-out esports events, for instance,” he said. “The NBA has seen people pay money to watch video games in one of their venues. And they want to be involved in esports as it looks like it will continue to gain in popularity. Think it’s easy to conclude that other professional sports leagues are interested in what happens next.”

 

Bulls coach Jim Boylen: ‘It’s going to be rough for a while’

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For the past few years, as the lead assistant to Fred Hoiberg with the Bulls, Jim Boylen got to be the “bad cop” to Hoiberg’s more mild personality. When Hoiberg was fired and Boylen moved into the big chair, he ramped up that old-school style — he called out the team’s conditioning and had them running suicides and doing pushups in practice (things rarely seen at the NBA level). Boylen was running long, grueling practices — including one the day after the team got back from a four-game road trip. He had film sessions right after games when guys were still emotional. Boylen did hockey substitutions a couple of times, taking out all five starters at once.

When he called for a practice the day after a back-to-back that ended with a 56-point loss to the Celtics, players pushed back. There were team meetings called by the players (and coaches, there’s a lot of people trying to spin this). Boylen said this is how he coached and he learned from Greg Popovich, the players had to trust him, and the players said you’re no Gregg Popovich and that trust is not there yet. It’s earned, not given.

The day after a series of meetings, the tone was a little softer, although Boylen was not about to back down. He said that it was only a couple of players who pushed back against the practice, not all of them, and he is clearly frustrated in this NBC Sports Chicago video.

Boylen also admitted things would not be easy, but he wants the players to trust him, as several Bulls writers Tweeted.

Boylen feels he’s in the right place. Will the players learn to trust him? One day after the meetings, things appeared better.

That’s easy to say at practice, we’ll see what it’s like when adversity hits.

Warriors named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of Year

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The three-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors are the fourth team to be honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year .

The Warriors join the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer squad and the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the other team honorees.

Sports Illustrated announced the winner Monday, and editor-in-chief Chris Stone said they have been thinking of some way to honor the Warriors during their run of three titles in four years. He also acknowledged that there were a couple years where Steph Curry has been in the conversation.

“There is something transcendent about the team where the sum of their parts was apparent from the beginning,” Stone said. “What they have built into a dynasty is a function of empirical success. They’re really a generational team. I don’t know if, in my lifetime, there has been a team where the pieces have blended so beautifully together.”

Stone also said that the Warriors’ honor is more about the celebration of the organization doing something unique over an extended period while the other teams were honored for what they did in a certain year.

Alexander Ovechkin, who led the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup title, Tiger Woods and LeBron James also received consideration, but Stone said the Warriors felt like the favorite when they repeated as NBA champions.

“In the same way they play, they seem to speak in a single voice,” Stone said. “The unity of message with the Warriors is the same way we refer to LeBron and his answering some of the hard questions. They did it forcefully, but also civilly, in a way that helps advance conversations.”

The Warriors will receive the award during a ceremony in Los Angeles on Tuesday that will air on NBCSN on Thursday.

“This is an incredible honor and one that certainly signifies our Strength in Numbers philosophy as a team and organization,” Warriors President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Bob Myers said. “Our success is due to the contributions of every single player, coach and staff member in our organization; for Sports Illustrated to recognize this unique dynamic is truly special.”

Report: Jim Boylen to Bulls: I learned from Gregg Popovich. Bulls to Boylen: You’re no Gregg Popovich

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Shortly after the Bulls fired Fred Hoiberg and promoted Jim Boylen to head coach, Boylen said Chicago players weren’t in shape. Boylen has tried to fix that with lengthy and intense practices – including one scheduled for yesterday, the day after a back-to-back. But Bulls players rebelled with a threatened boycott then ultimately compromised on a team meeting in lieu of practice.

The details of that standoff are something.

Vincent Goodwill and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

When Boylen arrived Sunday, the players stood and told Boylen they weren’t practicing, sources said, with the sides meeting to express their issues. Zach LaVine and Justin Holiday were the most vocal, sources said.

Boylen repeatedly referenced his days on the San Antonio Spurs staff and instances in which coach Gregg Popovich pulled all five players off the floor to send a message, sources said.

A player responded, sources said, telling Boylen in essence that they aren’t the Spurs and, more importantly, he isn’t Popovich.

The wildest part of all this: The Bulls already said they plan to keep Boylen as head coach next season. They’re not treating him as an interim.

But Boylen must dig himself out of a hole just to make it through the rest of this season.

Popovich can be hard on his players, but he has also proven that, if they buy in, he’ll help them perform at a high level. Boylen hasn’t. Absent demonstrated Xs-and-Os and developmental acumen, he just comes across as overbearing. NBA players don’t want to be treated like children.

The Bulls even complained to the players’ union, according to Goodwill and Haynes.

In the reported exchange, Boylen sounded like David Fizdale with Marc Gasol. The former Grizzlies coach and current Knicks coach had to learn from that.

Boylen could grow from this, too. But he put himself behind the eight ball with his harsh start.

Rumor: LeBron James suggested Cavaliers trade Kyrie Irving to Trail Blazers for Damian Lillard

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When Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers last year, LeBron James told the Cavs not to trade the disgruntled star. But LeBron also made no effort to win over Irving.

If that weren’t unhelpful enough…

Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report:

League sources say that when James became convinced Irving couldn’t be persuaded to stay in Cleveland, he suggested to the Cavs front office that it deal Irving to the Blazers for All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. The Cavs never called the Blazers

Of course LeBron wanted Lillard. Lillard is very good, even better than Irving.

But that deal probably wouldn’t appeal to the Trail Blazers. Though Irving is younger and cheaper, Lillard is locked up two additional seasons. That greater team control is huge.

Perhaps, the Cavs could have bridged the gap in Irving’s and Lillard’s values by sending draft picks to and/or taking bad contracts from Portland. LeBron left Cleveland for the Lakers after last season, anyway. Long-term issues like lost picks and toxic contracts weren’t necessarily his problem. It’s more understandable the Cavaliers resisted.*

*However, a team with an all-time great like LeBron in his prime should have been more committed to winning a title last season than they were. Those opportunities come along only so often.

What makes this particularly interesting: The Lakers are trying to get another star. Does LeBron still want to play with Lillard? The Trail Blazers insist they’re keeping Lillard, and he has repeatedly said he wants to stay in Portland. But LeBron wanting Lillard in Los Angeles could be the seed that grows into something bigger.